Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

17 June 2008

Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct

Collects: Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #1-5 (2006)

Released: July 2006 (Wildstorm / DC)

Format: 128 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401209919

Following Alan Moore as writer on a title is a good way to get people to notice you’re no Alan Moore. Following Alan Moore on a title he created and only he has written … well, that’s never a situation that’s going to make you look good.

Fiction writer Paul di Filippo takes that unenviable task by writing Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct. Now, I’m not saying they had to find someone outside the comics field to write this book because no one inside the comics field would be foolish enough to do so; most likely, di Filippo came to the publisher with ideas instead. But still …

Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct coverPut bluntly, the characters in Beyond the Farthest Precinct don’t sound or feel the same as they did in Moore’s original Top 10 series. In the original twelve-issue series, Moore managed to give depth to each character; the characters didn’t fit together — socially, at least — except in their professional lives. Di Filippo tries to fit a greater number of characters into a five-issue series, and everyone seems safer, more sanitized … the book begins and ends with police picnics, for heaven’s sake.

But on the other hand, these aren’t the same characters. Joe Pi, for instance, isn’t the same witty robot with a sly sense of humor about the laws of robotics. Synaesthesia’s comments about her powers are too blatant — as if they’re meant to establish what her powers are for the reader instead the dialogue serving a more useful purpose. Kemlo Caesar is an apologist for the command structure and delivers a speech on duty that is, frankly, embarrassing. Even Shock-Headed Peter, violently anti-robot under Moore’s hand, has mellowed out; he actually praises his robot (or robot-like partner).

Part of the problem is that di Filippo doesn’t have the space Moore did, and he refuses to cut out any of the original Top 10 characters in addition to his new characters. He has more luck with those — his Major Cindercott is a hoot, and the mayor is pretty good as well — and he probably would have been better served to have focused on a few of Moore’s characters and a couple of new characters.

The plot revolves around a skull-headed apparition that appears over Neopolis a few times, then begins possessing parts of the Neopolis populace. Frankly, the mystery / suspense of this plot didn’t engage me since, other than have a horrific countenance, the apparition doesn’t do anything evil until the final issue. A subplot featuring avant-garde performance artists / terrorists the Derridadaists probably should have been dropped to free up room to either make the main villain menacing or give more space to the characterization. The Derridadaists come across as “odd” and “vicious” rather than the “zany” and “bizarre” I think di Fillipo was aiming for.

Artist Jerry Ordway does his best; certainly no one is going to say he’s no Gene Ha. (Well, they might say it, but they wouldn’t mean Ordway is blatantly inferior.) Ordway has a cleaner line than Ha. He resists the impulse to “reinvent” any of the characters’ looks, and he keeps with Ha’s tradition of Easter eggs and background jokes for hardcore comic fans.

Taken by itself, Beyond the Farthest Precinct is an inoffensive but unimpressive comic, with only the art being of much interest. Weighed against its predecessors, though, this is tough to recommend.

Rating: ABC logo ABC logo (2 of 5)

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